Chapter 78 : Chapter Seventy Eight
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i love you guys. That's all I can say.
When I arrived home, Grace helped me into bed and brought me some food. By then, Grace had heard about everything from the people at her work and Moody, who had indeed showed up at our home looking for me. We agreed not to talk about it anymore unless I needed to. Strangely, I didn’t.
I was able to eat some, but eventually my exhaustion overcame me and I fell asleep.
I woke up not too long later, stirring from a restless sleep. Someone was standing next to my bed, but I didn’t panic. Of course. James.
His silhouette was dark against the light spilling from the corridor, obscuring his features. Grace must’ve let him in.
I looked up at him through my heavy-lidded eyes, unfocused from sleep. “Hi.”
James let out a long exhale of relief after hearing my voice. Since my eyes had yet to adjust to his features, I focused instead on the things I could hear. He was breathing heavily now, I noticed, and his feet scraped against the floor noisily as he approached to stand closer. I wondered how long he had been standing there, watching me sleep, perhaps even listening to my breathing.
“You came to see if I was okay,” I stated. James nodded. I still couldn’t see his eyes, but his glasses glinted, reflecting the stars from outside my window. I couldn’t decide if I was dreaming.
“I’m okay,” I whispered.
James nodded again, pressing a fist to his mouth, still not saying anything.
“You’re too good for me,” I mumbled, already drifting back to sleep. When I woke up the next morning, he was gone. Again, I wondered how long he had watched me sleep.
“I don’t understand,” sighed Grace.
“Neither do I.”
We were at a restaurant waiting for Healer Peters – or rather, Henry – to arrive. Grace had convinced me yesterday to meet them for dinner, thinking I probably needed something to take my mind off things. She also seemed to believe that the two of us only needed to get to know one another to realize that we could get along and even be friends.
Privately, I was sure we could never truly be friends until I erased the horrible image of him half-naked from my mind. Still, it helped to be in a public place. It was far more disconcerting to picture your friend’s potential boyfriend/lover naked in the privacy of your own home, where you bathe and sleep, rather than in a restaurant you never had to come back to if you liked.
The restaurant was called The Jolly Leprechaun, located in one of those places in London which Muggles can’t see or detect. If any non-magical person were to observe Grace and I making our way into the pub, it would simply appear as if we were taking a stroll in one of London’s dingiest alleys, strange in itself, but stranger still as we were both dressed up for the occasion. The restaurant, which was also a pub, was run by an actual leprechaun who was known to float above his customers and pelt them with fool’s gold whenever he had one too many. Apparently he had been kicked out of Ireland for sexually harassing and cheating his customers. At the moment, the leprechaun owner, named Larry, hadn’t become quite so raucous yet, but the night was still young.
I drew my attention away Larry, who at the moment was downing a pint of firewhisky like it was his job, to find Grace staring at me with a very Professor McGonagall-esque face, one quite familiar to me, since I had often encountered it whenever my Head duties were somewhat lacking.
Whereas I was hungry and ready to order even if a member of our party was absent, Grace had decided to start the evening harassing me about James. She already knew about his late night visit, since she had been the one to let him in. I hadn’t seen him since; at work today he was on patrols all day while I had been at the office, filling more paperwork than I had ever seen in my life. Since I had been the last witness to see Dorcas before her abduction and she was also my partner, my report required a great deal of writing.
I suddenly felt heavy with that familiar feeling which had immersed me all day – grief perhaps, mingled with an overwhelming helplessness which couldn’t go away even if I tried. But I had thought about Dorcas all day, focused on her death all day, and Grace had taken me out in order to distract me. I forced myself to focus instead on what Grace was saying right now.
“Lily, do you want to be with James?”
“Of course I do,” I said at once.
Far from comforting Grace, my reply only seemed to exasperate her further. “Then why can’t you just go and be with James?”
It was a simple question, one that required a simple answer. Yet for some reason I couldn’t give it. Grace was right, if I wanted to be with James, I should be with James. But something was holding me back. What?
“I’m…scared I’ll mess up again.”
I wasn’t sure what I had been planning to say, but certainly not that. Grace blinked, looking just as surprised as me. Not that it took her too long to recover.
“Well, that’s stupid,” she said, leaning back and taking a sip of her drink.
“Is it?” I asked sharply.
“Of course it is, Lily! We’re all scared, aren’t we?”
My only response was to glare. Yes, I knew very well that we were all scared. Except I recalled being far more comforting when Grace had mentioned her own fears to me the other night.
“It’s normal to be scared once you’re in a relationship.”
“Is it?” I repeated, this time with genuine confusion.
Grace rolled her eyes as if this were well-known information. “Yes, Lily. You just don’t know this because you’ve never been in a serious relationship.”
“What! I have too!” I sputtered.
“Please! You’ve never dated a guy for more than a few months, Lily. Not even James.”
“That’s not true, I mean there was – you know – that one guy…” I trailed off.
Grace raised her eyebrows me.
“Fine,” I snapped, “maybe I have never been in a serious relationship. But this, whatever this is with James now, is serious, Grace. He wants to get married.”
“But isn’t that what you want anyway?” asked Grace maddeningly.
I nearly choked on my gillywater. “When have I ever said that?!”
“Well you accepted the ring for one,” she pointed out.
“That’s – that’s not even the issue!” I stammered. “It doesn’t matter if I want to get married or not –“
“Then what is the issue?”
“I’m terrified I’ll hurt James again!”
Quickly I noticed that I had said this far more loudly than I had intended. The people at the tables around us, which weren’t too evenly spaced to begin with, were now all staring at me. I coughed, looking down at my plate. Then Larry the leprechaun spat out fire and diffused the tension.
“You don’t understand,” I whispered furiously across the table to Grace, “James has had enough of my crap. Do I want to be with him? Of course I do. But I’m beginning to think it might just be best – for him, that is – if I…let him go.”
Grace was observing me critically.
“What’s happened to you?” she suddenly demanded. “What’s happened to you for you to constantly think you’re contaminating the rest of us?”
“Lots of things,” I muttered, draining the rest of my drink and having it magically refill itself.
I looked up. I had never told Grace the full extent of my history with my family but she had gotten the basic gist of it – we didn’t get along.
“Have you talked to any of them about it?”
I gave a bitter laugh. “My dad has never been one to talk much.” Grace, of course, still didn’t know my mother wasn’t dead. No one did, but James.
“What about Petunia?”
I laughed again, more out of amusement than anything else. Talking to Petunia…the very idea was ridiculous.
“I’m sorry, you just don’t know Petunia,” I said finally, once my laughter had subsided.
“No, but she’s still your sister.”
“Grace, she hates me.”
“Maybe, but she’s gone through the same shit you have.”
I paused. “I’ve…never thought about it that way before.”
Grace nodded. “That’s normal. Grief makes us selfish.”
“Huh,” I said, sullenly admiring Grace’s sudden insight. More to wipe off her smirk than anything else (although I won’t lie, I definitely wished to change the subject), I said, “So where’s this Healer Peters? Isn’t punctuality an important quality in a Healer? You know…in case someone dies before you get there?”
My ploy was effective immediately. “Will you stop calling him Healer Peters? His name is Henry!”
“I can’t call him that, it’s weird,” I said dismissively, gulping down my gillywater again.
“And why not? You call me Grace, I call you Lily, not ‘Auror Evans.’”
“Ha, ha, well we’re – you know – “
“What? Spit it out!” said Grace when I suddenly stopped. We glared at one another in that challenging way that meant that we both knew what the other was thinking. After a few moments of this silent confrontation, I caved.
“How old is Healer Peters?”
“AHA!” she shouted triumphantly so that once again, several people were staring at us. She pointed her finger accusingly at me. “I knew that was your problem!”
“I don’t have a problem with it!” I lied at once.
“Yes you do, I know you, Lily, god you’re so judgmental…”
“I’m just curious, that’s all!” I paused and sipped my drink, which had magically reappeared again, to attempt nonchalance. “You don’t have to tell me his exact age. Just maybe an estimate?” I asked innocently.
“An estimate? What does that even mean?”
“You know…like I’ll give you a bracket, and you tell me if he fits in it or not. Is he younger than twenty-five?” I asked, not waiting for her acquiescence.
Grace flushed. “That’s none of your business,” she snapped, but she might as well have said no.
“Ok, so he’s not twenty-five,” I said, which anyone could’ve seen anyway. “Is he younger than twenty-six?”
Grace was now looking venomous.
“No? Okay. I think I’ve figured this out. He’s twenty-seven! Right?”
Grace merely grunted in response.
I frowned. “Oh, well, then he must be twenty-eight.”
Grace was steadily becoming redder. I gaped at her.
“Twenty-nine? He’s got to be twenty-nine, right?” Grace shook her head. “What? Well, he has to be otherwise – OH MY GOD!” I gasped.
“Lily, shut up!” she snarled. I ignored her.
“Oh my god, Grace, is he in his thirties?” I whispered this as if it were a dirty word. When she still didn’t answer, my trepidation grew. “No. Surely not…forties?”
“Of course not!” she snapped at me.
“Oh, good, I was going to say…” Grace was now determinedly staring at her empty plate. “Hey. That’s not so bad,” I said, attempting nonchalance as I sat back and folded my hands. “Not bad at all! So, what? He’s…thirty-one?”
“He’s thirty-four, okay?” she hissed, “Thirty-fucking-four!”
“Er – sorry I’m late?”
The two of us froze. Healer Peters had somehow sidled surreptitiously in between the tables and was now standing behind Grace. He was wearing a shirt that looked like it was from the fifties – come to think of it, it probably was from the fifties – and a distinctly embarrassed look on his face.
We were both redheads, therefore we were radiating quite a lot of heat from our table.
“Henry!” Grace sputtered, jumping out of her seat and kissing him rather exuberantly. I kept sitting, not sure I could bring myself to stand up and shake hands with him. “Um, hi,” I said lamely.
Apparently when you’re thirty-four you’ve reached a certain amount of maturity, for Healer Peters handled the situation brilliantly. First he proceeded to promptly ignore the fact that his potential girlfriend/lover was arguing about his age with her roommate, who consequentially had seen him almost naked. He then sat down with us and immediately started chatting about something that had happened at the hospital (apparently the reason he was so late was because he was saving a patient from a life-threatening situation – obviously this made me feel like a much better person) which Grace responded with overly interested questions.
Meanwhile, I was left to ponder how much of a horrible person I was.
There was something wrong with me.
I lay in bed, my thoughts so heavy that it seemed to weigh my head down onto my pillow, preventing me from leaving my bed before figuring some things out. I stared at the ceiling, slowly trying to piece things together. But sometimes your mind is going so fast that it’s impossible to do.
Eventually my thoughts led me to one coherent question, striking me at the heart of it all.
Why am I like this?
It hit me like lightning, something I had never really delved deeply into before. I was like this for a reason. There had to be an explanation as to why I was so scared out of my mind, and to quote Grace terrified of “contaminating people.” I loved James. I suffered without him. Yet there was something holding me back, this fear of being left alone, of not being able to love him in return, of screwing up not only him but any future family we could have. How many times had I stared at myself in the mirror, picturing what sort of child I would have, what he or she would inherit from me? How could I live with myself, knowing I was damaging this child like I had been damaged?
There was a mirror in my room. But I couldn’t look at it now.
And then suddenly, it came to me. I sat up, my head suddenly clear. I knew what to do.
I arrived in Little Whinging in the sort of neighborhood you’d expect someone like my sister and her husband to live. Rows of square, identical houses framed by perfectly manicured lawns and people who were probably all abed at this time of night. The lights of my sister’s home were on, however. Petunia had always been a late sleeper, and I hoped to god that it was she who opened the door, and not Vernon.
I could hear her cursing and muttering to herself even before she opened the door, undoubtedly very peeved someone had come to call so late. She answered the door in her night robe, which barely disguised her thin, bony frame. Her hair was in rollers, and her hands in rubber gloves. It was obvious she had been cleaning, although why at this hour I had no idea.
She had the grace to look astonished for a moment, then quickly rearranged her expression to be irritated. “What do you want?” she asked waspishly, as if the only possible reason I could be knocking on her door at this hour unannounced was to pester her.
“I was hoping for a chat,” was my inadequate response. I shrugged, feeling more and more awkward as she didn’t invite me in. “It’s a nice night out. Fancy a stroll?”
Petunia shot me a look that clearly said, “What, are you stupid?” without actual words. Through her annoyance I was able to recognize my sister in the pristine housewife before me who cleans her house at one in the morning. I almost smiled.
Without actually saying anything, she left me on her doorstep and headed through the hall and into the kitchen. The fact that she hadn’t closed the door on me meant I was finally invited in. I shut the door behind me and followed her into the house. I paused at the living room, observing the matching furniture and curtains. The only picture was on the mantelpiece, and it was of Petunia and Vernon on their wedding day. My parents and I were nowhere to be seen.
My sister had resumed her late night cleaning, despite my unexpected arrival. I stood awkwardly in her preposterously clean kitchen, positive that I was too dirty and disheveled for any of this – her home, her life. Carefully, I sat down at the table and opted for some casual conversation. “Where’s Vernon?”
“On a business trip,” she replied shortly.
“So it’s just you here?”
“And you. Unfortunately.”
I smiled sardonically. “Petunia, are you even going to ask me why I’m here?”
“Am I going to have to guess?”
Trust my sister to make this even more difficult. I watched as she scrubbed vigorously at her already spotless counter.
“Have you heard from our mother?” I eventually asked, as casually as I could.
Petunia paused in her scrubbing, her back to me. “No,” she said finally.
So, she hadn’t said her goodbyes to Petunia either. It didn’t matter that she had hosted her wedding or spent the last few months prior to it keeping her as a guest at her home. Once a runner always a runner, I guess.
“I called her,” I said, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible. “Information said she has a residence in France.”
Petunia paused for a moment with her back still to me, then resumed her cleaning. “Well, then that’s probably where she is,” she replied tersely.
I pitied her, but I’d never allow myself to show it. I knew how much my sister had invested in her relationship with our mother. If I felt any sorrow or disappointment at her leaving unexpectedly again, Petunia was suffering just as much, if not more.
I searched for something else to say. “And have you spoken with our father?”
In response Petunia threw her sponge to the floor and spun around to face me, thunderous. “Lily, if you’re here to inquire after our parents, why don’t you bloody go asking them after their health?”
“I suppose I just wanted to see you,” I murmured, rather foolishly.
Petunia chuckled nastily. “Really? And when have you ever wanted to just ‘see’ me? Just tell me what it is you want, Lily! Money? Or perhaps you wished to get into our mother’s good graces again? Well, I’m so sorry to be of no use to you!”
“How can you say that?” I cried, jumping to my feet. I would’ve laughed at her if I weren’t so outraged about her opinion of me. “When have I ever asked you for money?” This time I did laugh, I laughed bitterly. “Better yet, when have I ever asked you for anything? You never gave me the chance!”
“If I did you’d destroy us both!” she shot back. “It was hard enough without Mum around, I couldn’t possibly take care of us both!” Her voce wavered now, she clutched at her face, closing her eyes. I was forcing her to relive a part of our past – the one part that we shared and had both desperately tried to forget. I knew she’d never forgive me. When she did look up at me, her voice was venomous. “You’ve done nothing but sabotage me.”
In her anger, she threw her gloves into the sink, clutching the countertop fiercely, her knuckles white. Cautiously, I approached her. She didn’t notice as I stood beside her. Somehow I found myself wanting to pull back a few strands of hair from her face, touch her shoulder, or make any other sort of gesture that could be of comfort. Instead I forced my hands to remain rigidly at my sides. “You didn’t have to suffer all alone,” I said softly, voicing the very words I had wished someone had said to me years ago. “You still don’t have to.”
“As if you’re any different,” Petunia sneered, straightening. She threw me a look with every bit of disgust and contempt she harbored for me, disguising none of it. “As I recall, you were never asking for any help either. Not that you had to. You’re so gifted after all.”
And there it was. Petunia felt a great deal of things towards me, yet somehow she had managed to compress it all into contempt towards what she considered to be my abnormality. I was different from her. Perhaps she was even jealous. And deep down, she accused me of leaving her like our mother. And she couldn’t bear looking at me because of it.
I watched her stony profile and wondered about all the feelings she kept hidden underneath that cool exterior. “Do you ever speak of it to Vernon?”
Petunia scoffed. “Why would I?”
“To not feel so alone,” I answered honestly.
My sister stared at me as if she had never seen me before.
“No,” she said finally. “I don’t tell him anything.”
Petunia had chosen her path. A path of perfunctory superficiality. She had chosen Vernon for his simplicity and talent at utterly ignoring the problems in front of him. Petunia could swallow it down, perhaps, until her pain became a distant memory of her imagination. But I couldn’t.
My sister had resumed cleaning along with regaining her composure. Whatever anger I had provoked or vulnerability I had unveiled was hidden again behind her calm persona. I knew when to leave.
I paused at the kitchen door and took one final look at my sister. I had not realized until then how little she regarded me. We had both started off so similar, but ended up leading completely different ways. She had chosen her path.
I suddenly realized something. “I don’t want to feel alone anymore.”
Yes, she had chosen her path. And I had chosen mine.
I left Petunia’s house feeling dejected, lonely. And I hated it.
As a little girl, I remembered lying in bed and watching Petunia from across the room, where she lay fast asleep. I used to lie awake for hours, desperate to find the courage to cross the room and lie next to her, to fill in the void that had been left when our parents had opted to either leave or ignore us. Nothing would’ve been more comforting at the time than a warm body next to mine, enveloping me in some sort of sense of safety and companionship. But we had both chosen to bear our burdens alone. So I would lie awake at night, feeling myself harden as I wished fervently, desperately, to one day not feel this way anymore. Disappointed. Rejected. Alone.
Because the truth of the matter was, I had been searching to feel a certain way all my life. I had never felt truly loved, irrevocably, incontestably, indisputably, with my father and Petunia in that cold house.
I had wanted this for so long I even sought out my mother, hoping to find it with her. But there was nothing for me in that empty, unforgiving house, just as there had been nothing for me in my father’s cold, hard one. I had been wandering alone for as long as I could remember, and thought that because of fate, I would remain so. I questioned everyone who would give me a chance; James, and even Henn and Grace. Now that I had found what I had been looking for, how could I ever be willing to give it away?
Because I did not feel more loved, secure, and wanted than when I was in James’ heart. There. I had said it. Perhaps it really was cliché, but I knew it wasn’t insincere. I needed him. I could never return to being alone again. I knew this now. Because life was too short and unexpected. People died everyday, sometimes right in front of you. Friends moved away, and distanced themselves from you in more ways than one. Family could very well disappoint you beyond repair. You could be trampled even by that person you loved the most.
When I arrived at home I sat in front of my vanity, and looked at the mirror. I saw a girl of eighteen, with dark auburn hair that fell loosely just below her collarbone. Her eyes were green and almond-shaped and stark against her pale skin. Some would say she was beautiful, although probably more so if she smiled. I saw myself clearly for the first time.
And I let myself imagine. I let myself picture what my child would be like. Would the child have my hair? Would he or she need glasses like their father? And behind them, would the eyes be hazel or green?
And I knew already I was picturing the child I would have with James, the life and family I would have with James and only James. There were no other options. There were no other choices. And for the first time in my life, that didn’t scare me.
He’d be James’.
The child. The child I had been daydreaming about for the past few minutes. It was unquestionable. Irrefutable. It was just known and decided and that was that. If I had children – they would be James’. I couldn’t possibly have children with anyone else or be married to anyone else, and I realized that now.
My heart paced rapidly as my head came to this conclusion. It seemed so simple now, so clear. My child would be James’. I would raise that child with James. I’d love that child with James. I’d live the rest of my years, with James.
I suddenly knew my answer.
I Disapparated on the spot.
I stumbled in, pausing for a moment only to contemplate that in every single romantic confrontation I had ever seen on television, the heroine always looks flawless as she finally summons the courage to confront the one she loves. I, on the other hand, was presently disheveled and tearstained and not looking the least bit ready for yet another emotional row. But appearances were deceiving. I had waited long enough.
James wasn’t in the living room which I had so unceremoniously Apparated into. His flat wasn’t structured like my own – whereas my entrance was in our small living room adjacent to the simple kitchen, James and Sirius both came from money. The boys’ living room was spacious, filled with first class furniture and a far from subpar television, its presence which I always wondered about, as neither James nor Sirius had been raised with Muggles, therefore hadn’t grown up watching television.
I was just wondering the same thing for the umpteenth time with a familiar mixture of envy and exasperation, when the alarm was set off. A cacophony of gongs rang tremendously around me, shaking my entire body.
James ran into the living room, wand at the ready, panting. He shouted something incomprehensible through the sound.
He shouted again.
He was now gesticulating rather extravagantly, motioning towards me.
“JUST TURN THE BLOODY ALARM – off.” With a wave of his wand, the noise ceased. He eyed me incredulously.
“I just thought you were a bloody Death Eater! I could’ve blasted you!”
“Hardly,” I said haughtily. I too, had whipped out my wand when I thought he might attack me out of surprise. “I could blast you – my ears are still ringing.”
James glared at me. “Well, we have to protect this place somehow!”
“Oh, don’t give me that,” I said dismissively, pulling at my ears to make sure they were still working properly. “Grace and I have placed all the right sort of enchantments at our place, but our alarm doesn’t sound like…that.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot! Precious Lily Evans always knows best,” he snapped, rolling his eyes.
I smiled, suddenly remembering all those years at Hogwarts when all we did was argue, and jinx one another other, then argue some more. Despite my feelings for the man, he could still drive me mad. Yet for some reason this didn’t discourage me; on the contrary, it comforted me that after everything we had been through, we had remained somewhat the same.
He was wearing his pajama pants, I noticed, and no shirt. His hair looked just as messy as usual, but I knew better – he had been sleeping.
James straightened, and I could tell from his expression that he suddenly realized that I hadn’t come to see him so late just for a casual chat.
“I need to talk to you,” I said boldly – far more boldly than I felt. Now that my anger and irritation had subsided my old feelings returned – nervousness, queasiness and anxiety. “Can you please sit down?” I asked politely, pointing to the spacious sofa to my left. James nodded mutely and complied.
“I visited my sister,” I blurted out, not sure why I was starting with this. “Just came from there, actually. She’s…well, she’s the same.”
James nodded again, this time politely. It was clear from his expression he wasn’t sure where I was going with this. I wasn’t sure if even I knew where I was going with this.
“Well, we talked and…no, no, wait I’m doing this all wrong. I should start with Sweden, yes, I went to Sweden, and I saw Henn…” I was now muttering entirely to myself like the crazy person that I was.
James was staring at me like he’d like nothing better than to throw me out.
“Because I’ve been realizing something and I – what?” I asked, completely thrown off as James interrupted me. “What did you say?”
“Nothing,” he said softly. “Just your name.”
We stared at one another. Why had that one simple sentence sent chills all over my body? I didn’t understand it. How could his presence always, always overwhelm me like this? Just one word, one look even, and I was falling apart. Where was my resolve? Where was my courage?
Suddenly I wanted to run from the room. After all, old habits die hard.
But I held my ground. I was done running.
“I’m done running.”
James still didn’t say anything, his eyes never leaving my face. His arms were wound so tightly around himself that it seemed unlikely he’d ever reach towards me again. He looked expectant, wary even. Even now, he didn’t know what to expect from me. When I realized this I felt winded, stricken.
Meanwhile, I was having a hard time talking. My throat had closed up and my voice had disappeared, remorselessly, in this time of great need. I struggled to utter something, anything, so that James could understand.
“I’m done running,” I repeated. “I’m not saying I’m not scared because…well, yes, I still am. I’m scared of not knowing what’ll happen or how it’ll happen and now I know that’s okay. But you….you’ve always been so sure. You have been sure for a long time now. You know that you love me. You know where you want this to go. And you don’t understand how I don’t.”
James frowned. His eyes narrowed. No, no, you don’t understand what I’m saying. But he had waited long enough and didn’t deserve to be kept waiting much longer. I knew I needed to bring this to some sort of conclusion.
“All my life,” I started breathlessly, “I’ve been alone.” I choked a bit as I said this, and cursed myself for feeling sorry for myself, especially now, in this crucial moment. I blinked rapidly and wiped the wetness from my face impatiently. “I’ve been scared. I’ve felt…rejected. And I know it has nothing to do with you, I know that,” I said, laughing a bit as James ‘ scowl deepened and he stared at me with even more concentration. “But nevertheless, it’s made me the way I am. But I’m learning. I’m learning that my past doesn’t make me who I am. And that I don’t have to make the same mistakes my family has. No, I will not make the same mistakes they made.”
I was openly sobbing now. “You’re the best man I’ve ever known, and I’ve – I’ve been terrible to you. So I understand if you don’t want me anymore, James, I do. But the truth is…I can’t imagine living life with anybody – anybody but you. I know I don’t deserve you, but if you really want to do this –“
“Lily.” For the first time that night he wasn’t looking at me. He was staring at the wall to his left, his face set, as if he couldn’t bear to look at me right now. “What are you saying?”
I could see him trying to understand, his face working furiously to remain composed. It pained me to see him like this, so guarded. He didn’t believe it. He wouldn’t believe it until I said it. Even now, he wasn’t sure of me.
And all of a sudden, I stopped thinking of myself.
This was James, the man I loved. I had hurt him over and over again and he was giving me a chance to set things right. A chance I knew I didn’t deserve. I couldn’t tell you how wretched I felt as I stood there, staring at him as he kept his guard up. It was my fault he still felt uncertain.
I couldn’t imagine how difficult it was to…well, to love someone as fickle as I had been. It was reckless, bold. Stupid, even.
Suddenly I realized I wasn’t the only one afraid.
There he was. I could see it in him somehow as he sat in front of me. He was still afraid.
I didn’t want him to be afraid to love me.
He had always been the braver of the two. He had done it for us and I had taken it for granted. But now it was my turn.
I needed to blurt it out. I needed to say it aloud before I lost my nerve. “Yes.”
His face remained expressionless as he continued to stare at the wall. “Yes…what?”
“Yes,” I repeated, this time more certainly and forcefully, as I straightened. “My answer is...yes.”
And then I buried my face into my hands and burst into tears.
It was absolutely humiliating and not at all the way I had planned for this to happen, but I couldn’t seem to stop crying. Worse still, it seemed that James hadn’t moved. I didn’t blame him. I was mortified.
And then gently, my hands were being removed from my face. Softly, I felt his lips on each one of my closed eyelids, kissing the hurt away.
Finally, I looked up at him, not daring to hope that he still wanted me after all of this. For all I knew he had changed his mind during my long, watery spiel. But then he drew me into his arms.
“Why are you crying?” he asked me quietly.
I mumbled something incoherent into his shirt, and he asked me to reiterate.
“It’s just…things like this don’t happen to me.” It sounded pathetic, even to my own ears. Perhaps James thought so too, because he was soon pulling me away from him so that he could look down at me. He had a blazing look in his eyes, a mixture of anger and something else which made me tremble.
And then I felt this thing…almost indescribable. This tingling that made me shudder all over. It was such a complete sensation it made the hairs of my arm stand up, my cheeks flush, even my teeth throb. My entire being was at the mercy of my emotions as I finally surrendered to James.
James looked overwhelmed as well. Did he feel it too?
“I know that you think that you don’t deserve this sort of thing,” he started forcefully, “but here’s the thing. You’re the best woman I know. And even after everything that’s happened, I-I never stopped loving you. And I’m not going to, anytime soon.”
And suddenly I stopped crying. I could feel the tears dry to leave salt on my cheeks.
Slowly, I touched his face. His eyes were bright, far too bright. I could feel his stubble, wet.
This time I was the one who reached over to kiss the hurt away.
We were both sitting down on the sofa. I sat clutching James as if it were unlikely I’d ever let him go. Suddenly, I was self-conscious of all the wailing I had done in the last half-hour and how James had no choice but to submit to it.
I mumbled something about how I should be heading home right now, but was stopped as I tried to sit up from the couch.
“You’re not going anywhere,” James suddenly said ferociously, grabbing my arm. My heart couldn’t stop jumping around in my chest, but I looked at him anyway. He was determined, I could tell.
“You’re staying the night. Here. With me,” he added pointedly.
“But I –” I paused as I saw the look on his face. “Well…okay.” I was suddenly shy and couldn’t look at him, not that I needed to. He pulled my face towards his own and kissed me deeply. I realized that it was our first kiss in many weeks, and it felt…incredible. Then he led me to his bedroom.
At first I thought he meant for us to have sex, which is why I was confused when I saw he was already crawling into bed and shutting off the light. Were we really just…sleeping?
It was only sleeping. I had done it plenty of times before by myself. But I had been by myself. Now, I’d be sharing a bed with James. Like a real couple. A normal, non-dysfunctional couple. Why was it, that even now, this idea terrified me?
James was already getting comfortable, sprawling himself out onto his bed, which luckily, was king-sized (that rich brat). He was already closing his eyes, entirely confident in the fact that soon I would be crawling in beside him. Eventually I did. Or at least, almost. I paused at the edge of his bed and stared down at him until he finally opened one eye blearily at me.
“Lily, I swear to god, if you start –”
“You’re on my side.”
James opened both of his eyes. “What?”
“You’re – on – my – side, “ I reiterated slowly, pointing at his sprawled form, which admittedly, took up most of the bed, but mostly the left. “If we’re going to do this, you sleep on the right, I sleep on the left. Those are my conditions.”
I crossed my arms to emphasize my point. James sat up, scowling.
“But the night stand is on the left,” he pointed out, as if I didn’t already know. “Where am I going to put my glasses?”
I outstretched my arm, palm up. “I can put your glasses there just as well.”
James stared at me, considering this for far too long. Finally, he conceded. He took off his glasses, folded them, and set them carefully upon my open hand. With this small act, he finalized our agreement, and rolled off to the side. His side.
I smiled triumphantly, then crawled into bed after putting his glasses away. It was a comfortable bed. Far more comfortable than my own. Before James could say anything else, I blurted out, “Just because I’m staying over this one time doesn’t mean I’m going to every –”
“Lily, shut up.”
Surprisingly, I did, flushing in the dark. The rest of my words died in my throat. James scooted over to me, throwing his arm across my chest and pulling me closer.
“You know it doesn’t really matter,” he muttered into my hair as he snuggled his head in the crook of my shoulder, “because we’re both going to be on your side every night.”
“I’m not staying here every night!”
“Of course not. Sometimes we’ll stay at your place. Although your bed, I have to say –”
“There’s nothing wrong with my bed,” I snarled.
“Not when you’re in it, no,” he replied calmly.
I smiled despite myself. He pulled me even closer, and was soon asleep. I thought I would stay awake for a while, as I usually did these days, but with such comforting thoughts still lingering, it was easy to drift off to sleep.
It was a small step for most, but a big one for me. And we both knew that.
The next morning I woke up as James reached across me to grab his glasses. It wasn’t the only thing he grabbed.
After we were done making love, I reached into the pocket of my jeans which had been unceremoniously thrown onto the floor and took out the ring which I had left there for safekeeping. Mutely, I offered it to him, and he slid it onto my appropriate finger. It changed from its dull default crystal into the dazzling emerald I had worn before. He smiled up at me. I smiled back.
And that was that.
Final Author’s Note:
I know that many of you are probably disappointed with the ending, for several reasons. But I’d like to explain why I chose to end it this way.
1. I didn’t plan to end it this way. It just so happened when I finished writing the last scene for Chapter 78, I realized, “Oh. This is it.”
2. I wanted Lily to have a happy ending. I’ve always been more interested in the untold stories of JKR’s characters than the ones she has already written and developed in her books. The truth is, we all know what happens to Lily. By writing the story all the way up to her death would be reiterating a lot of material we’ve already read and are familiar with. I’m not interested in copying a story, but creating my own original one.
3. SPOILERS to book 7: Although I have always wanted my story to be as canon as possible, I know that there are a lot of inconsistencies between my world and JKR’s world. That is because I started writing this story in 2004, before books 6 and 7 were out. That is why there is no mention of Slughorn or Snape’s unrequited love. For the sake of my story, I chose to write what I had already planned for my characters, and not change the plot so that it is accurate to canon. I obviously have a huge respect for canon, but in the end I wanted the ending to be my own.
4. There are many things I wish my readers to assume. Henn gets married. Grace settles for a relationship that satisfies her and Remus remains alone until Tonks, so no, they do not reunite. Nor do Gaby and Sirius, although their ending is more complete, yet still bittersweet. Charles and Virginia do not become better parents, and Lily learns to stop hoping they will be, something I hinted at in this chapter when Lily visits her sister and realizes she has nothing to offer her.
5. There are many subplots I began back in 2004 I have decided to leave unresolved. These subplots are ones I’d rather delete and pretend weren’t part of the story, and if I ever go back and edit Living Life, that is exactly what I’ll do. Lynn’s story, for example, or Lily’s dreams which consist of her speaking to her grandmother. The reason I decided to discontinue these subplots is because I don’t believe they are a part of the story anymore. I haven’t written about Lynn or Lily’s dreams in years, and I believe most of my readers either have forgotten about them or are uninterested in knowing what happens to them. So for the sake of not having extraneous and cumbersome details in the final chapters, I decided to leave those subplots incomplete.
6. I know that I have been promising for a while certain scenes I’ve written for Living Life. The wedding scene for one, and Lily’s pregnancy. At first I wasn’t sure if I’d write an epilogue, but it seems that Lily refuses to leave me in peace and keeps creeping in my imagination and thoughts. I’ve already written several scenes which I will publish in the future, a sort of Living Life: Epilogue. If I do this it will not be one continuous story, but a story filled with excerpts that I have written over the years that have come up in my head and which I wasn’t sure if I’d use in my story.
To my dearest readers,
I don’t even know where to begin, but I suppose the first thing I can say is that my heart is full of affection for all of you. Regardless if you’ve been here with me from the beginning, or have just recently started reading my story, you all are the reason I have been writing Living Life for seven years. It’s been a long journey but I’ve learned so much, especially from all of you. I’d like to thank every single one of you for your loyalty, affection and patience as I wrote this story.
I started this story when I was in middle school, in 2004. I’m now in college. I want to thank especially those who have been following my story for a long time (some of you have grown up with me!). It means the world to me that you’ve stuck by for this long. I cannot thank you enough for your patience and your loyalty.
You’re all fantastic. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t met you, I feel connected with all of you. Every time I read all your reviews my heart just bursts with affection for all of you. Thank you for every single person out there who took the time to review. I read every single one. I didn't reply to every one, but I really do value your input.
I cannot tell you all how much it affects me to see that this story means just as much to you as it does to me. And for all of my anonymous readers out there, I love you all as well, because I can see all the views my chapters have and it’s wayyy more than the number of reviews so I know that there are hundreds out there following my story.
Please check my Meet the Authors forum for updates. If you have any questions, any at all, or messages for me, please contact me there. I will check it periodically and hope to hear from you. Once again here’s the link: http://www.hpfanfictionforums.com/index.php?showtopic=57284#top
I’ll miss you all. More than you know.
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